Freeport High School student-athletes may have to wait until 2021 to compete in sports.
At an emergency meeting on Aug. 26, Nassau school superintendents voted to postpone Section VIII high school sports until Jan. 4, becoming the first of the state’s 11 sections to move its fall season. The superintendents will reconvene on Sept. 21 to make a final decision.
“I believe other sections will follow and pull the plug, but I can’t speak for anyone else,” said Section VIII Executive Director of Athletics Pat Pizzarelli. “We felt strong enough to make this decision now. We took the cautious route, but we believe it’s in everyone’s best interests. There are too many unknowns.
“It’s just not time to allow kids to play sports,” he continued. “And my first and foremost concern is the safety of our student-athletes.”
“While we empathize with our students and families, Section VIII is the governing body for all public school sports in Nassau County and all school districts must abide by the rules they provide,” said Jonathan Bloom, Freeport School District’s athletic director. “As we enter the reopening phase of our schools, the health and safety of our students and staff must be our top priority. We look forward to resuming sports when more guidance for return to play is issued and Section VIII decides it is safe for our athletes and coaches to do so.”
The decision to delay fall sports came two days after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued guidance permitting lower-risk high school fall sports (soccer, tennis, swimming, field hockey and cross-country) to begin practice and play on Sept. 21, while noting football and volleyball could begin practice but not play.
The superintendents, however, did not consider the current conditions safe enough to conduct fall sports. The seven-person committee of Nassau County officials voted unanimously to postpone.
“It was never a consideration to try playing even the lower-risk sports,” Pizzarelli said. “Transportation is a big issue. There are a lot of issues.”
Chris Doherty, the Freeport High School girls’ soccer coach, said the move to cancel fall sports would be devastating, especially to the senior players.
“This is a time for them to make memories and reach their goals,” said Doherty, who has coached for 39 years. “If there’s any way to let them play, please let them. I ask my team to keep their dreams in front of them. Don’t let them fall behind.”
He added that he would gladly provide letters of recommendations to his players.
Russ Cellan, the FHS football coach, echoed Doherty’s sentiments and said the move to cancel the fall season would crush the nearly 100 students who take part in Freeport’s football teams.
With new upticks in Covid-19 cases throughout the country, he said he understands why county school and athletic officials would be cautious, but he hoped they would allow student-athletes to play the fall season in one form or another.
“Athletics is a big part of any school and helps kids thrive,” Cellan said. “Whatever form it is, I hope we can play this year. I don’t want anyone to miss out.”
The plan for now, Pizzarelli said, is to play all three sports seasons between January and June, when, officials said they hope, the threat of Covid-19 has decreased. He said Section VIII would develop its own contingency model and aim to limit season overlaps to one week at the most.
“We’ll look to get started Jan. 4 with the traditional winter sports, including basketball and wrestling,” Pizzarelli said.
Each sports season will be condensed, running nine weeks. The fall sports will be played in the second season, and spring sports will be third, as usual. Last year’s spring season was nixed March 16, after one week of practice, because of the coronavirus.